Assisted Dying and Death with Dignity?
According to a recent editorial in the New York Times, 17 states and the District of Columbia are considering legislation acknowledging that gravely ill patients who have little or no chance of recovery deserve the right to die with dignity. Desmond Tutu wrote forcefully about this in an essay in which he criticized the effort to sustain the life of Nelson Mandela whose body was kept alive long after he had ceased to be conscious. Tutu flatly stated that death with dignity is a civil right.
More recently, Brittany Maynard became prominent when she declared that she intended to take her life rather than succumb to the brain cancer that was progressively causing massive seizures. Maynad feared that she would not be unable to take her life if she didn’t act quickly. To accomplish her goal of a dignified death, she was forced to move to Oregon and establish residency in order to qualify for the Aid in Dying program – a program that has numerous safe guards in place to insure that a person is not simply trying to find a way to commit suicide. With the support of her family, she took her life on November 1st, 2014.
The state legislatures currently considering a Death With Dignity law will encounter stiff opposition from individuals within the medical community as well as from some organized religious groups. Detractors include physicians (Ira Byock, M.D for one) and those whose religious beliefs include the tenant that if “God gave life, only God can take it away”. But as the population ages and more individuals become afflicted with fatal illnesses, the pressure will increase for ending suffering in a way that is both humane and reasonably regulated.
An interesting aspect of the use of the law in Oregon is that only 60% of those who qualify for the program actually secure and use the physician prescribed medication. But almost all patients describe great relief at knowing that they have the means to end their life if their suffering becomes unbearable.
If you were confronted with an incurable and progressive illness which was sure to take your life, would you want to have the option to die with dignity on your terms with the assistance of a physician? Or are you supportive of the government saying that you must live out your natural life despite, pain, discomfort, and a lack of dignity?